Alien Wasteland is a rudimentary looking first-person-shooter made by a single person. It looks pretty darn different from Wasteland 2, the gritty strategy game from inXile Entertainment. Nonetheless, the developer behind Alien Wasteland was recently issued a cease and desist from the creators of Wasteland 2. Alien Wasteland's new name is Action Alien after nXile said it infringed upon their "Wasteland" trademark, developer Devdan said in a blog post.
"I have been calmly explaining through long emails why we should have no worries about this," said Devdan. "But I finally ended up receiving a cease and desist letter from their lawyer asking to either stop using 'wasteland' or to prepare facing legal actions against me."
Alien Wasteland has been in development for nearly two years, according to the game's Twitter account. Worried his game might be taken down from Steam or rack up expensive legal fees, Devdan chose to change the game's name, despite "a great loss in time and efforts for a very questionable complain [sic]".
The game's name is now officially called Action Alien on Steam.
This is Wasteland 2. This is not Alien Wasteland. I repeat, this is NOT Alien Wasteland.
inXile confirmed discussions with Devdan on their official forums, and said the intention had been to find "an amicable solution without involving lawyers."
"The C&D [cease and desist] only happened because the developer was unwilling to recognise the issue," said associate producer Thomas Beekers, "only offering to change the game's name if we paid him for it. Asking to be paid for infringing on someone's rights is certainly a new one for us, so of course we refused."
This isn't the first time inXile has butted heads with another developer over the term "wasteland". In 2013, Vlambeer renamed its roguelike Wasteland Kings to Nuclear Throne, following concerns expressed by inXile. (In 2012, Wasteland 2 had been funded via Kickstarter, making Wasteland a known property again.)
"We've been through a lot of trouble with people riding on things of ours, and we understand that American trademark law is pretty strict in that not defending a trademark weakens it," said Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail in a blog post. "We realise that both games are set in a similar setting, that the names are similar and that InXile obviously felt the need to reach out. Although we aren't sure Wasteland Kings and Wasteland are confusing enough for this to be an issue, both us and InXile really don't want to spend development time on arguing over trivialities."
Ismail appreciated inXile reaching out and asking for a change prior to involving lawyers, which appears to have happened with this smaller developer, too.
With Alien Wasteland and Wasteland 2, however, it seems a stretch to argue there's all that much overlap. But that hasn't stopped silly legal posturing in the past. Remember how Bethesda told Mojang it couldn't call their collectible card strategy game Scrolls because it might cause confusion with Elder Scrolls?
This is Scrolls. This is NOT Elder Scrolls. Also, this is NOT Wasteland 2. Furthermore, this is NOT Alien Wasteland.
That was ridiculous, too, but Mojang hired expensive lawyers to figure out a solution with Bethesda, which apparently involved them promising to not make a competitor to Elder Scrolls.
It sounds like Alien Wasteland had to drop the "wasteland", no questions.
"We always look for amicable win-win solutions in these cases," said Beekers of inXile, "where we seek to protect our mark as any prudent business would do, while also helping the other party promote their game and provide a bigger reach than he otherwise would get, so that both parties benefit. In fact, that offer still stands now."
The developer behind Alien Wasteland didn't respond to my request for comment.
"This is just one of the many headaches in game development," he wrote in a blog update.
It's hard to tell if the inXile folks are being more aggressive than necessary or simply reacting to the absurd lengths US law demands of companies, if they want to keep control over their trademarks. This comment from Kotaku reader AustralianPartyKid is pretty on point:
I’m a lawyer who has gotten trademarks, as well as sent out these types of letters. On the one hand, I am a little amazed the USPTO gave out a trademark for “Wasteland.” That’s pretty generic and I’m sure the word has been used in many video games in the past.
However, the reality is that if you don’t protect your trademark, you lose it, so if you become of anyone even possibly infringing on you, you have to send out one of these letters and you have to get them to stop using the trademark. It’s just the reality of the law.
Top: This is Alien Wasteland.